As I write this column there is word that the Cowboys are considering adding former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to their coaching staff as passing coordinator and offensive play caller. Apparently head coach Jason Garrett was unhappy with the play calling of offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, as evidenced by how Garrett inserted himself into the relaying of plays to quarterback Tony Romo late in the season. And even though the Cowboys finished around fifth in the league in points with an offense ranked around sixteenth, there was much to complain about with Callahan’s propensity for abandoning the run, even when it was working. So, to make a long story short, whether they hire Linehan or not, you can expect the Cowboys to move away from Callahan as the offensive play caller.
We have all heard the comments from team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and Garrett, when asked about coaching changes. They say that the current coaching staff is under contract and will return, but they refuse to confirm that all of the coaches will return in the same capacity as last year. That certainly leaves the door open to do what I have been calling for, re-assign Monte Kiffin to consultant for the defense and move defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, or linebackers coach Matt Eberflus up to defensive coordinator. I have been suggesting Marinelli, but I have seen recent columns that suggest Eberflus could be in the running. Either way, a change is in order after setting team records for the worst defense ever.
One of the positives about Garrett as the head coach is that he lets competition in practice determine who starts, not where the player was drafted or how much he’s being paid. That’s why we saw undrafted free agent safety Jeff Heath starting instead of J.J. Wilcox late in the season. I do think that Wilcox will win the job back in the next training camp though, unless they draft another safety and throw him in the mix. And we must not forget about injured safety Matt Johnson. He has to get healthy enough to play at some point, right?
We can expect heated competition in training camp for other positions as well, especially on the defensive line. Returning will be surprise of the 2013 season George Selvie at defensive end, but to remain a starter he will have to beat out other returning players. With Anthony Spencer pretty much missing the whole season at defensive end, there is a chance his value has diminished to the point that the Cowboys can afford to keep him. If Spencer is able to return and DeMarcus Ware comes back healthy at the other end position, Selvie will likely become a rotation player. Even without the draft this defensive line will be better with the aforementioned possible return of Spencer and a healthy Ware, along with injured linemen Ben Bass and Tyrone Crawford. You can throw into the mix the possibility of Josh Brent returning after he has paid his debt to society.
That being said, I do believe that even though the Cowboys always say they are going to draft the “best player available” when it’s their turn, they will concentrate on getting help for the defensive line early in the draft. This defense is predicated on a strong pass rush. If it’s not there, the opposing quarterback has too much time to find an open receiver and the receivers have plenty of time to get open. Expect the first draft pick to be a defensive lineman who just happens to be the best player available at the time.
There are some that would say they need a lot more help on the defense than just the line, but I would disagree. The linebacking corps, led by Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, along with the likes of Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman looks strong and a second year in this system should help alleviate some of the confusion we saw in 2013. I also think the defensive backfield is in good shape as well. I previously mentioned the safeties, but I also believe the cornerback position is strong, if they will just let them do what they are best at, pressing the receivers in man coverage. Also, expect rookie B.W. Webb to be better his second year in this system.
On offense, other than the previously mentioned play calling, there are not as many changes needed. The season ended with the line playing well and the addition of a fullback seemed to help the running game. The main question there is if injured guard Brian Waters will return. The quarterback position is secure and they are good to go at running back with DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle added to the mix last year. At wide receiver, Miles Austin is a solid team guy, but he has to go. He is making way too much money for what he is giving the Cowboys in return. He also stands in the way of Terrance Williams being an every down player, which he has shown he deserves. Although kick return specialist Dwayne Harris can contribute at receiver in a pinch, expect them to add a receiver late in the draft, or a free agent.
This team is not as far away from being able to play at a championship level as some believe. After all, I just played as the Cowboys in Madden Football against both of this year’s Super Bowl teams and beat them. That must mean they have the personnel to be a winning team, the coaches just need to step it up!